On November 28, the Federal Trade Commission issued a bulletin for consumers relating to the process for applying for an apartment and the related background check process that can be undertaken by the potential landlord.

The FTC stated: “Landlords can check your credit, criminal history, and even your rental history.  They may ask your permission but they’re not required to.  So, if you know you’ll be looking for a new place to live – or if you’re about to renew your lease – then here are a few things you can do:

  • Go to annualcreditreport.com to check your credit.  That way, you can fix any errors before a landlord sees them.
  • Give the landlord your correct full name—first, middle, and last—and date of birth.  This helps make sure the landlord gets information on the right person.
  • If you have a criminal history or previous housing court actions, gather any paperwork showing how the action was resolved in case you need to fix errors.

The FTC then specifically discussed the criminal record background screening process, stating that “some landlords might say not to apply if you have a criminal record.  That could be discrimination.  If that happens to you or if you think that a landlord illegally discriminated against you for another reason, such as your race or gender, contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development.”

Finally, the FTC offered guidance to applicants who were rejected due to the background check, identifying the following rights possessed by consumers:

  • “The landlord must give you notice of the action – orally, in writing or electronically.
  • The notice must give you contact information for the company that supplied the report.
  • The notice must tell you about your rights to correct inaccurate information and to get a free copy of the report if you ask for it within 60 days of the landlord’s decision.
  • You should obtain your free report, fix any errors, and have the company that supplied the report give the corrected report to the landlord.  Tell the landlord about the mistake, too.  For more information on background reports and your rights, check out the Summary of Rights.”

This bulletin is consistent with the FTC’s consistent emphasis on the background screening process, both with respect to employment and tenant screening applications.  Background screening companies, employers, and landlords are well advised to review such bulletins and to ensure compliance with the procedural requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  We will continue to monitor this and like guidance from the FTC on background screening issues.